Falling Down

Falling Down is more interesting for its commentary on urban living than for the actual actions its primary protagonist takes when he is unable to deal with his environment.

William Foster aka D-FENS (Michael Douglas) is stuck in a traffic jam in Los Angeles, in a car without air conditioning and a pesky fly buzzing away at him. Cars honk their horns without reason. This is an extremely well done scene and I could easily feel the claustrophobia that Foster feels.

Frustrated, he leaves his car in the middle of traffic and walks away. He slowly makes his way to the house of his estranged wife and daughter (who is celebrating her birthday), encountering an assortment of urban predators in varying forms along the way. With each encounter, his weariness and anger with his life increases. To make things worse, he also picks up a more aggressive weapon at each stop he makes.

When the reports of his movements are reported to the local police, Detective Prendergast (Robert Duvall), who is on his last day of work, decides to track him down. Eventually Foster reaches his goal of being with his wife and daughter, but is soon confronted by Prendergast. Foster takes the only way available to him when he realises that he has fulfilled Nietzsche's maxim:

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." --Nietzsche

The movie, directed by Joel Schumacher, achieves this subtle transformation well. But when we realise that Foster has just fallen down, our sympathies are with him. Even though the movie focuses on Foster's descent, Prendergast also has similar issues to work out. In the end, Prendergast is able to hold on and finds a release, just as Foster gives up. The fact that Prendergast is able to feel a sense of usefulness comes at the expense of Foster's forlornness could be a telling point about the human condition.

The movie is set in a hot day in Los Angeles, and there's a starkness associated with it. The comical interludes (such as a little kid teaching Foster how to work a bazooka, or a fiery Latina trying to describe Foster's actions to a skeptical police office) only add to the bleak existential nature of the film. The play on London Bridge and the title of the movie is cheeky. Robert Duvall and Michael Douglas do a great job with their roles. I have no complaints with this movie and I definitely recommend checking it out.

Movie ramblings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org